As part of its effort to raise Google eBooks' profile as an e-book retailer, last week the service's first dedicated e-reading device was announced. In a phone interview, Google eBooks product manager Pratip Banerji discussed the new device and outlined Google eBooks' plans to use partnerships with the American Bookseller Association and a newly launched affiliates program to market Google eBooks to consumers.
Banerji said Google eBooks was designed to be more than a bookstore. "It's a "broad e-book eco-system," Banerji said, noting that it was time for Google eBooks to offer a dedicated device integrated with its e-book platform. Banerji said iriver, the Korean firm that produced the Story HD e-reader, was the first manufacturer to approach Google eBooks about using its APIs to build a dedicated reader. "We like to be on as many devices as possible," he said. "We're on tablets, phones, and personal computers, but we felt we needed a dedicated e-reader. We'd like other manufacturers to partner with us."
While the device cannot be used to buy directly from indie bookstores—Banerji said it was "too big a technical problem"—once titles are purchased through other means, they will automatically synch with the device. But he said it would be possible for an ABA store to build the kind of "specialized Web site" required to be able sell directly through the device.
While iriver's Story HD is a typical e-ink device—black & white and no multimedia support—and even looks a bit like an Amazon Kindle, the lack of touchscreen functionality could make the device seem dated. But, said Banerji, "Touchscreens may not be necessary. The technology affects the quality of the screen and changes the reading experience." He said that Story HD "has its own distinctive features." The device has a much more powerful processor and "higher screen resolution, it's like dot-matrix printing vs. laser printing, it makes a difference. Pages turn faster and the page-turn flash is dramatically reduced because of the faster processor." He added:. "It's about choice. You may not want to take an expensive iPad to the beach; the Story HD looks good and it will synch with your other devices."
Google eBooks offers more than three million free e-books and "hundreds of thousands of for-pay e-books," from about 7,000 publishers, Banerji said, acknowledging that the lack of a pre-order system was a hindrance to using Google eBooks. And unlike Kobo (Reading Life) and B&N (Nook Friends), Google eBooks has no plans to offer social media reading applications. "We're not tied to any one device and we think that gives us flexibility," he said.
Banerji also said that TV marketing "is not something we have considered." He said the ABA IndieCommerce program has 250 indie stores that are selling Google eBooks, "It's a great way to migrate new e-book readers to Google eBooks." He also pointed to the affiliate program, which allows any Web site to market Google eBooks and receive a commission on sales made through the site. "As we add more sites to the program, Google eBooks will see more traffic and more consumers will get excited about it."